10 Fun Facts About Me

1. I’m an awkward clutz. No, really. In elementary school and junior high I was too tall for my own body. My legs were like giant stilts I couldn’t control. Dance helped make me a bit more graceful as I can control the movement of my limbs now, but I still quite frequently trip over my own feet-often while people are looking. As far as awkward goes, I catch myself saying things like “you too” when my waiter tells me to enjoy my meal.

2. I hate the gym, but I love outdoor activities. Working out is fine as long as I feel like I’m accomplishing some goal, and running to nowhere at the gym just doesn’t work for me. (I also can’t run because of a bad knee.) However, I love the sounds, smells, and views of nature. I love challenging myself and the sense of accomplishment that comes from scaling a mountain or rowing down a river while simultaneously feeling and seeing what my body can do for me. I mainly love knowing that the only one I’m challenging is myself. Hiking and kayaking are my favorite activities but I’m a fan of them all.

3. Coffee terrifies me. Weird fear right? Not really considering my mother has an addiction to it! If she doesn’t have coffee before 10am, she gets massive migraines. And don’t even think about attempting to talk to her before her morning cup. If I drink the stuff to help myself wake up or when I haven’t had a lot of food, I literally get jittery, shakey, and I’m in constant fear of developing a dependence on the caffeine. So, I stick to drinking coffee as a treat, and never if I feel tired.

4. I’m really cheap. Or frugal, as my mom puts it. I used to think this was a good thing. My parents called me money bags as a kid because I never spent my allowance. And I’ll go out of my way to save a dime. My cheapness has made me super good at saving and I always have some emergency stash hidden somewhere. However, I think I’ve perhaps become a bit too cheap. I recently read an article that spending or losing money can actually cause emotional trauma to the spender. (Read article here.) And I’ve done some pretty stupid, not to mention inconvenient, things to save a buck. (Such as refusing to pay $3 for a foreign taxi and instead walking a km home in the dark with all my stuff.) So, I’m working on finding the perfect balance between spending and saving.

5. My favorite food is Mexican food. Which is the worst part about traveling. Half the world doesn’t even know what an enchilada is. Nachos in Taiwan are chips and salsa. But coming from Texas, Mexican food is what I grew up on. Our annual Christmas dinner is Pedro’s tamales (so good that apparently Bush had them flown into DC for his inauguration dinner) with homemade guacamole and salsa. Yum.

6. I’m slightly OCD, in that everything must be organized. My planner is my best friend and I’d be completely lost without it. I make lists for anything and everything. I love office supplies. As a kid, I even asked for a hole puncher and stapler for Christmas.

7. Family game nights are how I like to spend my time. I miss Sunday nights at home the most, since my whole family comes together to play Chicken Foot.  Other favorites are Apples to Apples, Salad Bowl, and Cranium.

8. My biggest fear is running out of time. There’s so many things I want to accomplish in my life, so many experiences and goals, I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it all. Life goes by so quickly and I don’t want to miss out on anything. I think that’s what makes me adventurous and why I love traveling. It’s not that I’m not afraid to do some things, it’s just that I’m more afraid of missing out on the opportunity.

9. I love singing.  If I’m belching out the words to a song, you know I’m happy. Doesn’t matter what type of music, I like a little bit of everything: broadway tunes, pop, country, classical, rap, oldies, etc. And a good song makes everything feel better.

10. I’m an avid reader. My Nook changed my life, makes traveling and reading so much easier. Currently I’m powering through Game of Thrones.

I love feedback so feel free to comment!

Hostels: What’s All The Talk About?

I’ve just returned from an amazing week in Kenting and I’m bubbling over from the excitement that I associate with traveling. Trying new foods, seeing beautiful views, and participating in fun-loaded activities certainly make a trip great; but its the people you do these things with who will give you the best memories.

The people I met this week at my hostel were tremendous. We had a great time exploring the area during the day, chilling at the beach, feasting on delicious food, and hanging out at night. There was this laid back feeling present and we stayed up all night, every night, talking and laughing.  On her day off, one of the owners took us around to her favorite areas which was completely devoid of the many tourists who flock to Kenting.

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Waterfalls that the owner of our hostel brought us to. No one was out here besides us. Photo cred: Latisha

Which is why I felt like writing about hostels in general. In America (or at least Texas), not many people seem to actually know what they are. My friend’s dad was shocked that we were actually going to be staying in them as only “swarthy men” went there.  Other people back home give me the yourefuckingcrazylook if I mention staying in them as they seem to confuse hostels with brothels. And I’ll admit, I’ve had some bad hostel experiences. You get some interesting characters, have to climb up bunk beds, and I’ve suffered through some unpleasant things such as bed bugs and being woken up to drunk sex in the middle of the night. But the best times I’ve had while traveling have come about because of people I’ve met in hostels.

In China, I took a gorgeous mountain trip, jumped off a bridge, had a bonfire on the beach, and went rock climbing because of meeting other travelers in hostels. In Melbourne, I decided against getting an apartment and instead lived in a 14-bed room with other long-term travelers because I was having so much fun. (Look to featured photo taken in 2012.) We used to cook big meals together, explore the night scene, and constantly prank each other. These friends even came and visited me while I was recovering from surgery in the hospital. In Bali, after knowing some other travelers for about a day, we rented scooters and proceeded to take a four day trip around the island in one of the most memorable experiences of my gap year.

So, I recommend to anyone who hasn’t already, stay in a hostel. You’ll save money, meet some truly awesome people, and the owners/workers usually know the best places to go. I’m personally a fan of using hostelbookers (a form of hostel search engine that will list places available in the city you’re traveling to). It has no booking charge, provides directions, and allows you to read plenty of reviews from other hostel-stayers. I wanted to give a special shout-out to Rainbow Wave Surfing Hostel for their great workers, delicious home-made breakfast each morning, and crazy cool vibe. You absolutely must stay here if you come to Kenting. And an even bigger shout-out to the people who I’ve met in hostels all over the world who have given me some of the best memories of my life.

So You Think You Can Dance?

I stared blankly at the microphone placed in my lap as my Siraya friends insisted on an American performance. How did I get myself into this one? I wondered.

Our weekend started early Friday afternoon as we packed up our bags and went to stay at a lodge on Hutou Pi (tiger head lake), one of the local areas I was most excited about seeing. This weekend was the first Siraya International Youth Workshop where the Siraya youth would meet to discuss issues their tribe faces and find fresh insight into ways to tackle obstacles such as language revitalization and national recognition.

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From a bridge on Hutou Pi at dusk

The weekend was a success, showcasing the youth’s talents and aspirations. I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face in Amy, a Chinese woman now living in Taiwan whom I met while hiking in Jinguashi. She had remembered the name Siraya from my explanations of my summer work and enrolled in the workshop to find out more about the culture.

Tabatha, me, Gloria, and Amy goofing off after lunch
Tabatha, me, Gloria, and Amy goofing off after lunch

After following up presenters including a Sirayan Ph. D. student who studied with the Maori in New Zealand, a chief from the local Paiwan tribe, and a representative of the Tiano tribe in Puerto Rico, I thought that the worst of my nerves was over. (I spoke on indigenous movements and the mechanisms they used to attract international attention). That is, of course, until we were asked to do an American performance on the spot.

One of the leaders of the Paiwan tribe in Taiwan speaking on their movement
One of the leaders of the Paiwan tribe in Taiwan speaking on their movement

Luckily Tabatha, my fellow US volunteer, came up with the idea of doing a popular dance. And so, in one of the most fun and bizarre moments of my life, I stood in front of the room teaching the Siraya to dance the macarena. They loved it and cracked up hysterically every time we came to the part where you twirl your hips and jump-turn to the heyyyyyy macarena, even adding their own finger twist. By the end I was breathless from cracking up as mushi (pastor) stated we’d do it again, just one more time.

Imagine the hilarity that ensued when we went on to teach them the chicken dance.

No workshop is complete unless it has a cardboard cutout! Makutatalag-a tu Tainan means "Welcome to Tainan" in the Sirayan language
No workshop is complete unless it has a cardboard cutout! Makutatalag-a tu Tainan means “Welcome to Tainan” in the Sirayan language
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Some beautiful flowers I found growing on a bridge at Hutou pi
Youth discussing issues and sharing ideas
Youth discussing issues and sharing ideas

 

Three Cups of 茶 (Tea)

I think one of the best experiences you can have is getting lost in a city. I had a vague idea of where I was this weekend in Tainan; however, I wasn’t quite sure how to get to the Confucius Temple or Chihkan Towers while we were wandering through the downtown area.

Whilst strolling through Tainan Park, a group of elderly bad-mitten players waved us over to have tea with them. Why not? I thought. It’s not like we had a super tight schedule. So we sat down for some conversation and Oolong tea.

Only one man spoke a bit of English, so I was able to practice my Chinese conversational skills. Although I spoke very slowly, and despite confusion on both parts, half our conversation took place in Chinese. Communicating (even horribly) in this insane language, where if you use the wrong tone the whole meaning of the word is different, for such a long period of time was a super rewarding experience. Especially in comparison to my previous time spent in Asia where I had to rely on others to interpret and translate. And hey, I couldn’t have done that bad because I successfully got directions to Chinkan Towers.

Having tea with my new friend in the park!
Having tea with my new friend in the park!

 

Exploring Chihkan Towers, a fort built by the Dutch in the 1600s.
Exploring Chihkan Towers, a fort built by the Dutch in the 1600s.

 

One of the more bizarre places we visited this weekend: Qigu Salt Mountain.
One of the more bizarre places we visited this weekend: Qigu Salt Mountain.

Jinguashi

If you’re in Taipei for a few days, I recommend taking a trip to Jinguashi, an old gold-mining town about an hour north of Taipei. During the Japanese era, a gold rush occurred in this area creating small towns to support the operations. These villages were later abandoned when all the gold had been extracted.

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Jinguashi is home to the gold ecological park. The museum is interesting, you get to learn about worker’s conditions and have the opportunity to touch a 220kg brick of gold (worth about $10 million US dollars). Admission is free-another notable point, although you can arrange some tours through the tunnels that cost a small fee.

I particularly enjoyed walking around the area and exploring the beautiful mountains in the area. There are lots of small hikes and the scenery is stunning. You can easily walk or catch a bus to the nearby cities of Jiufen and catch other stunning views of Taipei and the ocean. If you want to get out of the crowds of Taipei for a day I would definitely recommend the trip!

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The view of Jinguashi from a short hike to a Shinto temple
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